Interview: Cuff the Duke (Oshawa, Ontario)

A lot of people are put off by the country music label but not many are put off by Cuff the Duke. Ten years after their debut release Life Stories For Minimum Wage, their new Juno (Canadian Grammys) award-nominated album Morning Comes marks a return to an indie label and an entrance into new musical territory.

Unfortunately, “when people think of country, they tend to think of Garth Brooks (…) and new country” which have given the genre a bad rep in the eyes of the indie music lovers. But when Cuff the Duke provide country elements to their sound, they draw their influences from older names: Hank Williams, the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968) and Johnny Cash. Some of these names are even making new waves as younger audiences get to rediscover their earliest and latest work – I’m looking at you Gillian Welch. I found what made this album so very “country” was its melancholy and processing of small universal tragedies.

When I asked Wayne Petti (electric and acoustic guitar, organ, piano and lead vocals) why release such a sad album he replied that “everything was about the past and everything leading up to that… regrets with regards to the passage of time.” These are tropes we can all relate to which is what made this album as accessible as comfort food. It also helped that producer and veteran Blue Rodeo band member Greg Keelor was present to keep the recording process natural and fluid. From this came the album’s showcase “Brightest Part of the Sun” – a foray into new eerie genre-blending territory surprisingly fitting for Petti’s lead vocals. The technique itself is old – Beatles old – as they actually mixed two differently styled takes of the same track from two different days: a bold and apt move that manages to keep up with the record’s approachable tone.

There was a fear that a double record would be a little too cheesy but thankfully the band decided it would be a lot of fun. Drawing inspiration from the incredibly productive output of bands in the 60s and 70s like Creedence Clearwater Revival where most of their biggest hits were released over short stretches of time.

Cuff the Duke has changed a few things up, not only musically but also in terms of infrastructure. No longer distributed by Universal records by way of their own label ‘Noble Records’, Petti admits that “to get back to being on an indie label with a roster of bands where you’re part of a scene” instills a sense of community, making this business of music less lonely. Petti considers members of Born Ruffians and Elliot Brood as friends and notes that Cuff the Duke is a big fan of Rural Alberta Advantage and Austra.

Keep your ears peeled for a September release for In Our Time, the hope-ridden and optimistic continuation of Morning Comes where you’ll find “there’s comfort in (the) regret because you can move on.”

Thoughts?